Estate Agent Disqualified over Price-fixing Cartel

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Estate agent Michael Martin has been branded unfit to continue as a director of a company after failing in his bid to contest disqualification action taken by the Competition and Markets Authority.

Martin was found to have contributed to a breach of competition law by his former company, which owned and ran Gary Berryman Estate Agents in Burnham-On-Sea.

A 2017 CMA investigation found that six Burnham-on-Sea estate agents which together had an estimated 95 per cent share of the local market, had agreed to fix a minimum commission rate of 1.5 per cent for residential estate agency services. The illegal cartel agreement lasted for a little over a year from February 2014.

Mr Martin had not been concerned with day-to-day sales, nor did he attend any of the meetings with the other estate agents at which the fee fixing agreement was made. However, the High Court heard he had been aware of the cartel agreement and had taken no steps to prevent or end his firm’s involvement.

In the first application for a competition disqualification order to come to trial, the court concluded Martin’s misconduct fell below the standards of probity and competence appropriate for persons fit to be directors of companies, making him unfit to be involved in the management of a company. He was disqualified from acting as a director or being concerned in the management of a company for seven years.

Martin is the fourth director to be disqualified following the Burnham-on-Sea investigation. The other three directors had already given formal undertakings not to act as directors for periods varying between three and five years. Martin had refused to give such an undertaking.

‘Agreeing prices with competitors is one of the most serious ways in which a company can break competition law. It keeps prices or fees artificially high, harming individuals, businesses, and the wider economy’, said CMA executive director of enforcement, Michael Grenfell.

‘Company directors have a critical responsibility to make sure their companies don’t take part in this kind of anti-competitive behaviour’.

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